College football notes

In this Oct. 27 file photo, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury stands on the field before a game against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
In this Oct. 27 file photo, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury stands on the field before a game against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

USC lands Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator

Former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was named Clay Helton's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Southern California on Wednesday.

Kingsbury is considered one of the top offensive minds in football despite being fired by Texas Tech on Nov. 25. He went 35-40 in six seasons in charge of his alma mater, but the Red Raiders consistently had one of the nation's most dynamic offenses.

Kingsbury reportedly was pursued by NFL teams after his dismissal, but he chose to join the embattled Helton at talent-loaded USC, which just completed its first losing season since 2000.

"He is a brilliant offensive mind and is on the cutting edge of the game today," Helton said. "His offenses have consistently been at the top of the college football statistical rankings. With the talent on our team, along with his leadership and coaching, I truly believe that we can take our offense to new heights."

Kingsbury replaces offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who was dismissed along with several assistant coaches after the Trojans (5-7) lost five of their final six games, including consecutive losses to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. USC's quarterbacks coach last season was Bryan Ellis, who left to become Western Kentucky's offensive coordinator.

Kingsbury's arrival should placate a large segment of the unsatisfied USC fan base that called for Helton's firing throughout the second half of the season. USC athletic director Lynn Swann realized he was going against public sentiment when last month he elected to retain Helton, who got a contract extension through 2023 earlier this year.

Kingsbury was spotted on USC's campus last week, and the Air Raid architect's interest in the job immediately excited fans who were skeptical that Swann and Helton were committed to change in the sputtering program. The school also is eager to avoid a downturn in football interest next season at the Coliseum, which is undergoing a $315 million renovation.

Few coaches have better reputations for developing exciting offenses and star quarterbacks than Kingsbury, who set several NCAA records as a quarterback under current Washington State coach Mike Leach while at Texas Tech.

After a five-year pro career, Kingsbury has coached Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Case Keenum, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb and others to major statistical success. Kingsbury's vaunted version of Leach's Air Raid offense has produced the nation's leading passer three times in his 11 years as a college coach.

After his firing at Tech, Kingsbury drew interest from collegiate and NFL teams seeking his quarterback expertise and offensive vision. He chose to stay in the college game at powerhouse USC, which is coming off just its fourth losing season since 1961.

USC ranked 11th in the Pac-12 last season with 382.6 yards per game. Helton, the Trojans' former offensive coordinator, took over play-calling duties from Martin for the final four games of the just-completed season, but the Trojans finished 83rd in the FBS in total offense, 91st in scoring and 108th in rushing.

The Trojans scored fewer than 20 points in four of their seven losses, and USC has scored fewer than 20 points in eight games of Helton's 3½-year tenure. Texas Tech scored fewer than 20 points only nine times in Kingsbury's six seasons in charge.

Kingsbury has no previous ties to USC, and his hiring represents a break with tradition at a school that had strived for nearly a decade to recapture the glory of its dominant era under Pete Carroll.

The school already had a decades-long history of hiring and promoting from within its vaunted football program, and it unsuccessfully replaced Carroll with two of his former assistants: Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.

Kingsbury seems certain to create a new-look offense for the Trojans, who won the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 in Helton's first two full seasons in charge.

After quarterback Sam Darnold left for the New York Jets last spring, the Trojans struggled with freshman J.T. Daniels behind center.

Daniels was considered the nation's top quarterback prospect when he arrived at USC, but he showed only flashes of that talent while throwing for 2,672 yards with 14 TD passes and 10 interceptions as a freshman. His 128.6 quarterback rating was 10th in the Pac-12.

Daniels' partnership with Kingsbury is tantalizing, particularly with talented receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Velus Jones Jr. all expected to return along with running backs Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai.

Kingsbury will join Helton and returning defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, whose group largely performed admirably during the Trojans' miserable season despite injuries. USC must hire a new offensive line coach after Neil Callaway was fired with four games left.

Colorado hires Georgia DC Mel Tucker

Mel Tucker doesn't shy away from setting the expectations high.

Because lately that's the only level he's known.

Colorado hired the Georgia defensive coordinator as its football coach Wednesday after he helped rebuild the Bulldogs into a national contender. He wants to bring that same sort of swagger to Boulder.

Not down the road, either, but pronto.

"Colorado should be a 'no excuse' program," Tucker said in a statement. "There's absolutely no reason we can't achieve success at an extremely high level."

Tucker receives a five-year, $14.75 million contract under a deal that's pending approval from the board of regents. He starts immediately and won't coach Georgia in the Sugar Bowl against Texas on New Year's Day.

The 46-year-old Tucker replaces Mike MacIntyre, who was fired with a game remaining in the season and the team mired in a six-game skid. The Buffaloes lost their final game under interim coach Kurt Roper to miss a bowl berth for a second straight season.

After several stints as an NFL defensive coordinator, Tucker became an assistant head coach for Nick Saban at Alabama in 2015. He spent a season with the Crimson Tide — capturing a national title — before following coach Kirby Smart to Georgia to build a feisty defense. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama last weekend in the SEC championship contest and in overtime last season in the championship game.

Tucker has never been a head coach on the collegiate level, but has learned under some big names. He helped Ohio State and Jim Tressel to a national title as a defensive backs coach in 2002 and was brought on board by Saban on three different occasions.

"I've known Mel for well over 20 years and he is one of the brightest coaches in our profession," Saban said. "They are getting a guy with a great personality, who knows college football, works hard each and every day, and does it with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and positive energy."

Tressel couldn't agree more.

"The Buffalo football family will thrive under Mel's leadership," he said. "A man with high expectations for himself and his student-athletes, Colorado football will enjoy a terrific recruiter, football strategist, and an 'all-in' member of the community."

This won't be the first time that Colorado has hired someone without any previous collegiate head coaching experience. Tucker joins a list that includes such names as Dal Ward (1948), Sonny Grandelius (1959), Eddie Crowder (1963), Bill McCartney (1982), Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Jon Embree (2011).

McCartney led the Buffaloes to a national title in 1990.

"If you go back last month when I talked about what I wanted in our next head coach, you'll find that Mel checks all those boxes," athletic director Rick George said. "He has great experience and a terrific pedigree. I like the way he coaches football, his toughness and accountability. Those are the things we were looking for."

On the pro level, Tucker has served as a defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. He also was the interim head coach for Jacksonville over the final five games in 2011 after Jack Del Rio was fired.

"I'm excited, my family is excited and we've been associated with some very good programs, winning national championships at Ohio State and Alabama with a lot of success elsewhere along the way," said Tucker, who was a defensive back at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez. "There's no reason we can't experience the same at Colorado. It is a sleeping giant."

Especially with some of the talent he has returning. Like receiver Laviska Shenault, who earned all-conference honors after 86 catches for 1,011 yards and six TDs despite missing a few games with a toe ailment. There's also quarterback Steven Montez, who threw for 2,849 yards.

The Buffaloes started off with five straight wins before going into a tailspin that ultimately cost MacIntyre his job. MacIntyre was voted AP college football coach of the year after leading the Buffaloes to a Pac-12 South title and 10 victories in 2016. That was his only winning season at Colorado.

"There's no learning curve with Mel. He's been in the business," George said. "We brought him here to win now, and I truly believe Mel will make us a winner next year."

AP Player of the Year finalists named

Quarterbacks Kyler Murray of Oklahoma, Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Dwayne Haskins Jr. of Ohio State are the finalists for The Associated Press college football Player of the Year.

The winner will be announced Thursday. The finalists are the same as those for the Heisman Trophy, which will be presented Saturday.

Murray leads the country in total offense (4,945 yards), points responsible for (306) and passing efficiency (205.7). He would be the second straight Oklahoma quarterback to win the AP honor. Baker Mayfield was player of the year and Heisman Trophy winner in 2017.

Tagovailoa has completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,353 yards and a school-record 37 touchdowns against only four interceptions.

He and Murray will also face off in the College Football Playoff, when No. 1 Alabama faces No. 4 Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl semifinal on Dec. 29.

Haskins set Big Ten passing records with a nation-leading 4,580 yards and 47 touchdowns in his first year as the Buckeyes' starter.

The AP player of the year has been awarded since 1998. Oklahoma has had four previous winners: Mayfield in 2017, quarterback Josh Heupel in 2001, quarterback Jason White in 2003 and quarterback Sam Bradford in 2008.

Ohio State's only AP player of the year was quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. Alabama has never had a player win the award.

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